Friday, March 20, 2020

Eclectic thoughts after Cheltenham 2020

This time last week Al Boum Photo had just retained the Cheltenham Gold Cup; it seems like half a lifetime ago.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is currently no racing in Britain while an announcement from Boris Johnson this evening means that all betting shops are set to close until further notice.

Racing goes ahead in Ireland tomorrow; ITV4 will cover the first five races from Thurles.

Some very brief personal thoughts after Cheltenham...

Best finish of the meet - Samcro beating Melon a nose, Faugheen third, in the Marsh Novices' Chase.

The two that came to grief in the Supreme - Captain Guinness and Elixir D'Ainay - both appeared to be travelling well enough coming to the penultimate flight. Given that front-runner Asterion Forlonges had persistently jumped out to his right during the race, I'm still at a loss to explain why Mark Walsh presented Elixir D'Ainay at that flight in the way he did.

As Cathal Gahan notes in the Weekender, Sire Du Berlais won the Pertemps Network Final in a time nearly three seconds faster than Lisnagar Oscar recorded in winning the Stayers' Hurdle.

To focus on the ten handicap races, as in 2019, Britain won five Ireland five; Column Of Fire (trained by Gordon Elliott) looked a serious threat to all when coming to grief at the last in the Martin Pipe.

Last year 19% of Irish runners achieved a first three finish in handicaps; on initial inspection this year I think 17 runners (from 73 starters) achieved a first three finish which equates to a comparative figure of 23.29%.

Given that last year Irish runners achieved even better results in handicap races at the Aintree Festival, I was working on this cunning Baldrick-like plan for this year's meet...

Stay safe.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival to a nominal one point level stakes wager (1 point win, 0.5 points each way) with bets settled at advised prices and each way returns calculated to one fifth the odds.

For the fourth time in the past five years the blog's Festival selections have returned a profit, although this year's modest figure contrasts rather sharply with last year's performance.

To quote my regular life coach and mentor: 'Let's be honest, now, a modest profit beats the thumping loss you usually record over the course of a season.' Withering. What with the whole wellbeing agenda and everything, perhaps it's time I started looking for a replacement...

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Selection: The Conditional
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 9/1
Starting price: 15/2
Result: Win
Return: 6.40
Profit/Loss: +5.40

3.30 Champion Hurdle
Selection: Cornerstone Lad
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 33/1
Starting price: 33/1
Result: Pulled up
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Tuesday +4.40

2.10 RSA Chase
Selection: Copperhead
Bet: Win
Advised price: 9/2
Starting price: 6/1
Result: Fell
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

2.50 Coral Cup
Selection: Alfa Mix
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 11/1
Starting price: 14/1
Result: Seventh
Return: 0.00
Profit / Loss: -1.00

4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Selection: Zoffee
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 16/1
Starting price: 16/1
Result: Pulled up
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

5.30 Champion bumper
Selection: Israel Champ
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 12/1
Starting price: 8/1
Result: Seventeenth
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Wednesday: -4.00

2.10 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
Selection: Third Wind
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 14/1
Starting price: 12/1
Result: Fourth
Return: 1.90
Profit/Loss: +0.90

2.50 Ryanair Chase
Selection: Min
Bet: Win
Advised price: 11/4
Starting price: 2/1
Result: Win
Return: 3.75
Profit/Loss: +2.75

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle
Selection: Penhill
Bet: Each way
Advised price:14/1
Starting price: 10/1
Result: Pulled up
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss -1.00

Profit/Loss Thursday: +2.65

2.10 County Handicap Hurdle 
Selection: Thatsy
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 14/1
Starting price: 8/1
Result: Seventh
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

3.30 Gold Cup
Selection: Lostintranslation
Bet: Win
Advised price: 17/2
Starting price: 10/1
Result: Third
Return 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Friday: -2.00

Outlay over four days: 11 points
Profit/Loss over four days: +1.05 points
Profit as percentage of outlay: 9.54%

Friday, March 13, 2020

Midlands Grand National 2020

A curtailed post on Gold Cup day to look at tomorrow's Midlands Grand National (3.35); the going at Uttoxeter is described as heavy, soft in places.

With other major sporting events postponed or cancelled on account of the coronavirus pandemic, you feel it's only a matter of time before racing is affected.

Ladbrokes Trophy winner De Rasher Counter stands his ground; Ben Jones can claim three but the top weight still has to give away a minimum of ten pounds to his rivals over this marathon four mile two furlong trip. Petite Power, Sheneededtherun, Very First Time and Financial Outcome all contest this from out of the handicap.

Christmas In April won the Sussex National at Plumpton in January and the Devon National at Exeter last month and as a result is now rated 14 pounds higher. I'm just concerned this will may well prove one trip to the well too many.

Truckers Lodge is priced up favourite on the back of his second behind Potters Corner (won this last year off 135) in the Welsh National; the handicapper has raised Paul Nicholls' charge just one pound for that effort but this trip is the best part of four furlongs further.

Prime Venture was fourth in that Welsh National, beaten just over four lengths, and the handicapper has dropped Evan Williams' charge one pound. Fourth in this race last year off 139 he tries this time off 135 and connections fit blinkers for the first time. You can see why this one makes plenty of appeal but at 7/1 now the value has disappeared.

Joe Farrell would prefer better ground while the mare Sheneededtherun has really improved for a move of yard but this represents a step up in class.

I'm considering two at an each-way price: Dominateur and Just Your Type.

The former is unexposed; in the RP Weekender [11-15.12.19] Oliver Sherwood said:

"I think he can make up into a nice staying chaser and could be worth following."

Just Your Type finished second behind Bigirononhiship over an extended four miles at Kelso in December. He never really travelled next time in the Towton at Wetherby and has since undergone wind surgery; if that surgery has helped the cause, 14/1 (five places) looks tempting. Connections have ditched the tongue-tie tried in the Towton.

Along with Captain Drake (unseated twice in last three runs), Just Your Type is joint top-rated on Racing Post ratings.

It's certainly a risky wager but it may just be the last one for quite some time...

For those with money to burn after Cheltenham Just Your Type (14/1) is the each-way suggestion; Sky Bet pay one fifth the odds five places.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - Friday

Over the years I haven't spent an awful lot of time on the Triumph Hurdle (1.30) but this looks a particularly high class renewal. I was taken with Sir Psycho's slick, fluent hurdling the last day at Haydock but on ratings he has enough to find with a few of these (including stablemate Solo) and the 12/1 on offer doesn't quite cut it - one to watch with interest.

I've had more tips for the Country Hurdle (2.10) than you could shake a stick at, yet most of them have failed to make the final declaration stage. The Evan Williams trained Mack The Man is an absentee but holds an entry in the Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle over two miles five at Kempton on Saturday. Stablemate Quoi De Neuf stays put in his stable.

At a preview event Gordon Elliott was quite bullish about Thatsy indicating he thought this one well handicapped. The gelding appeared to meet some trouble in running the last day at Leopardstown behind Thosedaysaregone (third in the Coral Cup on Wednesday); Davy Russell does the steering.

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle form is represented by Ciel De Neige (raised four pounds after finishing second to Pic D'Orhy), Sir Valentine (fourth, also raised four pounds), Zanza (sixth, raised two pounds), Oakley (seventh, dropped one pound) and Stolen Silver (eighth, dropped two pounds).

A word too for Moon Over Germany at a much bigger price; trainer Henry De Bromhead said in the RP Weekender [29.01.20-02.02.20]:

"I gave him a run over hurdles at Leopardstown over Christmas as I feel his mark is more favourable - he is rated 15lbs higher over fences. He has a mark of 134 over hurdles here in Ireland and 140 in Britain so the plan is to go to Cheltenham for the County Hurdle."

That discrepancy between the hurdle and chase ratings makes Moon Over Germany an intriguing proposition (28/1 in places this evening) but the last nine-year-old to come home in front was Pedrobob in 2007.

Thatsy is the each-way suggestion, 14/1 with Paddy Power who pay one fifth the odds six places. I note that no favourite has won this in the past ten years.

Al Boum Photo may well go off favourite for the feature Gold Cup (3.30) as he bids to become the first horse since Best Mate to win two consecutive renewals (2002/ 2003/ 2004). You could never accuse Henrietta Knight of over-racing her stable star; Al Boum Photo has followed a similar preparation to last year - after finishing second to Kemboy in the Punchestown Gold Cup, Al Boum Photo has had just the one run over an extended two miles five at Tramore on New Year's Day.

The handicapper rated stablemate Kemboy the best chaser in the land after that Punchestown victory but he hasn't been in quite the same form after a delayed start to the season following problems regarding his ownership. He has been beaten twice by Delta Work this season and questions marks remain over his jumping.

Santini will be challenging for favouritism and certainly looks a stayer but Bristol De Mai made a significant mistake three from home in the Cotswold Chase the last day, ceding the initiative to the Henderson horse.

Connections fit cheekpieces for the first time here but I'm just not convinced and I don't think drying ground will help his cause.

Lostintranslation ran a shocker in the King George at Kempton last time but before that was a must for any shortlist. He has undergone wind surgery since he 'made a noise' at Kempton and wears a first-time tongue tie; handler Colin Tizzard has been very pleased with his preparation..

Clan Des Obeaux has won two King Georges at Kempton over three miles but patently didn't come up the hill in last year's renewal (close 3rd two out, soon ridden, no extra from last). Paul Nicholls has adjusted his charge's preparation, missing out the Denman Chase in February (run at Ascot last year), and feels this will make all the difference; from a very early stage Nicholls has compared this one to See More Business who won the Gold Cup for him in 1999 (Mick Fitzgerald up).

Presenting Percy looked very good when winning the 2018 RSA Chase by seven lengths from Monalee but he was beaten 33 lengths into eighth behind Al Boum Photo in last year's Gold Cup and has finished behind Delta Work twice this season.

Bristol De Mai appeared at the end of his tether when claiming third last year while Monalee is certainly a smart operator and overpriced at 25/1 (beaten a head by Delta Work the last day) but has stamina questions to answer. Elegant Escape simply doesn't jump well enough while several commentators have put up Chris's Dream (won Red Mills Chase with Real Steel pulled up) as one that could make a place at a price.

In 2014 Lord Windermere won at odds of 20/1 and Al Boum Photo obliged at 12/1 last year but all the other winners over the past decade have been priced in single figures. The Irish challenge looks particularly strong with Al Boum Photo the percentage call and Delta Work bang there.

I'm going to take a leap of faith and support Lostintranslation who on official ratings has two pounds to find with top-rated pair Al Boum Photo and Kemboy.

Lostintranslation is the win selection, generally an 8/1 chance, but William Hill go 17/2 at the time of writing.   

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - Thursday

A number of media outlets reported the attendance at the first day of the Festival was 60,000, a drop of some 7,000 compared to last year. Apparently empty hand-sanitisers were in plentiful supply; rumours that toffs in tweeds had been spotted sharing tubs of Swarfega have yet to be confirmed.

Paisley Park is an odds-on favourite to repeat last year's victory in the showcase race, the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30); on official ratings he is 12 pounds clear of nearest challengers, Apple's Jade and Barcadys.

Last time out he beat Summerville Boy here in the Cleeve Hurdle when Aidan Coleman kept his mount much closer to the pace than we'd seen previously, no doubt wary of allowing front-running Summerville Boy too much rope. Tom George's charge didn't really take to fences; reverting to hurdles and stepping up to a trip of three miles for the first time certainly suited the gelding well.

Warren Greatrex has always thought a lot of Emitom; back at the beginning of the core 2018 NH season he said:

"He's won his only outing in a Warwick bumper back in April. It didn't come as a huge shock to us as he'd been showing all the right signs at home and he travelled really well.

The form isn't much to write home about but he won pretty well and if we've got a novice hurdler that could go to the top then it might just be him.

Put it this way, he's in Cole Harden's box [winner 2015 Stayers' Hurdle] so he's obviously got a lot to live up to!"

His only defeat that season was a three length second to Champ [wins RSA Chase earlier today] in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree but, unfortunately, things haven't been quite so straightforward this term. He suffered a setback during the build-up to his seasonal debut and, after a rushed preparation, was well beaten in the Relkeel. Next time out he won the Rendlesham at Haydock in taking fashion and warrants every respect.

My each-way play is 2018 winner Penhill on the back of these comments from Willie Mullins in the RP Weekender [04-08.03.20]:

"The big target for him all season has been the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle. I was very happy with his run in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last month and what was most encouraging was that he usually comes out of his races a little bit stiff, but on this occasion he was fine. He would have needed that run and that would have put him spot on... Although he missed last season he is bidding to make it three Cheltenham Festival wins, having won he Albert Bartlett in 2017 and the Stayers' Hurdle in 2018. I would be looking for another big show from him."     

All winners in the past decade have been aged between seven and nine; two nine-year-olds have obliged - Big Buck's (2012) and Solwhit (2013).

Penhill (14/1) is the each-way selection; BetVictor pay four places on this race.

Irish trained horses filled five of the first seven places in last year's renewal of the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (2.10) so it's no surprise to find Relegate, The Storyteller and Sire Du Berlais at the head of the market.

From among the home challengers I like Skandiburg - Olly Murphy describes him as 'an improving handicapper' who'll 'thrive in a big field' - and Third Wind. Hughie Morrison's charge beat five time winner Jatiluwih at Wincanton on Boxing Day; Hobbs describes the winner as 'a smart opponent' and says of his own charge: 'That was a very good run last time and he [Jatiluwih] has to be a contender...upped in trip'. Taking into account Mr David Maxwell's three pound claim, the pair look closely matched.

Third Wind is the each-way selection, currently 14/1 with Sky Bet who pay one fifth the odds six places.

The Racing Post ratings for the 2019 running of the Ryanair Chase were:

180 Frodon
178 Balko Des Flos 
178 Un De Sceau
176 Footpad
174 Road To Respect
171 Monalee
170 Aso

The Racing Post ratings (with official handicap ratings in brackets) for tomorrow's renewal (2.50) are:

184 Min (170)
177 Frodon (168)
175 Aso (162)
174 A Plus Tard (166)
171 Riders Onthe Storm (162)
170 Duc Des Genievres (161)
169 Saint Calvados (161)
168 Shattered Love (151) [mare]

On these figures Min looks the one; his record over two miles four furlongs reads three wins and one second (beaten a neck by Politologue who won the Champion Chse earlier today) but he has never won at Cheltenham.

Willie Mullins said: 'Last year we changed tactics with him at Cheltenham and it didn't work out but we know where we are with him now.' 

A Plus Tard won the novices' handicap chase here last year by an astonishing 16 lengths and beat Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown over Christmas. That form reads very well and the stable chalked up two wins on Tuesday.

Frodon hasn't been in quite such good form this season but beat Aso in last year's renewal.

Riders Onthe Storm is unbeaten for the Twiston-Davies team but had a hard race when seeing off Cyrname (and Traffic Fluide) at Ascot less than four weeks ago.

Aso is a course and distance winner who happens to like it here; he has been placed in the last two renewals but hasn't been in the best of form this term. He could make the frame again at a decent price if first-time blinkers have the desired effect.

Min's jumping hasn't always been foot prefect, particularly in his last two runs, and his course form is a worry but on those figures Min is the win selection; he's generally 11/4 at the time of writing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - Wednesday

Unbeaten in seven starts to date, Envoi Allen takes his chance in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (1.30) with Davy Russell doing the steering. On official ratings Gordon Elliott's charge is seven pounds clear of nearest rival Sporting John (unbeaten in three) and is priced accordingly.

Champ is a horse with a serious engine but his price has been on the drift for the RSA Chase (2.10); he doesn't look the easiest of rides or the best of jumpers for that matter. Both his defeats over obstacles have come at this track; he finished second behind City Island in last year's Ballymore and then took a crashing fall at the penultimate flight when in command of the Dipper on New Year's Day. His jumping up to that point wasn't always as slick as you might have wished for - I'm a layer rather than a backer.

Minella Indo won last year's Albert Bartlett at odds of 50/1 with Allaho third, beaten nine lengths. Alloha reduced that deficit to two lengths in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in May. In the RP Weekender [04-08.03.20] Willie Mullins informed readers Alloha 'can be quite keen in his races' and they were looking to 'give him some more work before Cheltenham to try to get some of that keenness out of him'.

Battleoverdoyen fell last time out and was pulled up when sent off 3/1 favourite for last season's Ballymore.

Colin Tizzard saddles two, Copperhead and Slate House, and the pair are joint top-rated. The former looked most impressive when winning the Reynoldstown at Ascot last month; Tom Segal (Pricewise) expects this one to oblige. Slate House was set to go close in the BetVictor Gold Cup here in November but came to grief two out. He was disappointing in the Cotswold Chase last time but has more experience than several in the field.

A couple of trends in a trappy race: since 2000 only two horses younger than seven have collected the spoils - 5-y-o Star De Mohaison (2006) and 6-y-o Don Poli (2012); nine of the last ten winners have run at least three times over the larger obstacles.

Copperhead (win) gets the nod.

Alfa Mix is the each-way suggestion for the fiercely competitive Coral Cup (2.50) on the back of Gavin Cromwell's comments that the gelding is 'one of the few Irish handicappers who can run off his Irish mark'. Several layers are paying six places on this race - at the time of writing Coral go 11/1.   

This year's Queen Mother Champion Chase has received star-billing in recent weeks with the battle of the 'big three' - Altior, Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi - anticipated with some relish. Altior was reported lame on Sunday and unfortuantely has failed in the race against time; he misses the chance to defend his title.

Chacun Pour Soi defeated Defi Du Seuil a convincing four and a quarter lengths in the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown last May; a mistake five from home didn't help Defi's cause. Defi remains unbeaten since (including a course and distance win in the Schloer Chase in November). His track record - 6 from 8 - tips the balance for me; he is my idea of the winner but with just six facing the starter now this is a race I'm going to watch rather than bet on.

Tom Segal has said anything can win the Boodles (4.50). Well, my fancy for this, Rowland Ward, can't as he never made the final declaration stage. Badly hampered last time out, he is probably better than his final finishing position might suggest.

Irish runners filled the first three places in this race last year; Gordon Elliott has expressed a reservation about Aramax on very soft ground and appeared to favour Tronador.

I like Philip Hobbs' understated style and his Zoffee is of interest. In the RP Weekender 26.02.20-01.03.20 he states:

"We are lucky to have a strong team for the Cheltenham Festival this season and one of the more interesting ones could be Zoffee. He finished second on each of his first two starts before trotting up at Doncaster last time out. He has really thrived since then and is very much on an upward curve. He goes for the Fred Winter and I hope he will be competitive." 

Quoted at 16/1 with Sky Bet - the only bookmaker paying six places at the moment - Zoffee is the each-way suggestion.

I'm happy to lay Champ in the RSA and back Israel Champ each-way in the bumper (5.30).

Irish runners have won six of the past ten renewals and the word on the street is that the Willie Mullins trained Appreciate It is the one. That said, there have been some shock results over the years including Cue Card, the last four-year-old to come home in front at odds of 40/1 in 2010.

Course and distance winner Israel Champ looks the best of the British and comes from the David Pipe stable responsible for Moon Racer (owned by Professor Caroline Tisdall and Bryan Drew) in 2015.  Panic Attack won a listed mares' race at Market Rasen for Willie Mullins in January and was subsequently bought by Bryan Drew and transferred to the Pipe stable last month - she could be absolutely anything. I think I'm correct when I say the only filly /  mare to win this since 2000 was Fayonagh in 2017.

Most layers are paying four places and at the time of writing Unibet offer 12/1; Israel Champ is the each-way pick.   

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - Tuesday

It's been a messy season all round and this year's Festival takes place with the threat posed by coronavirus on everyone's mind.

As always, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle opens the meeting (Tuesday 1.30); this renewal looks particularly trappy. Asterion Forlonge has been well tipped up and likes to race from the front but his tendency to jump right would be a worry.

Gordon Elliott had indicated Envoi Allen might run in the Supreme rather the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Wednesday 1.30) if the ground turned up testing; after walking the course on Saturday he indicated Envoi Allen goes in the Ballymore.

At present the going is described as soft with further rain predicted on Monday evening.

This year the showcase race on the first day, the Champion Hurdle (3.30), has been routinely declared as substandard and 'wide open' by the world and his wife; the final declarations number seventeen.

The Nicky Henderson trained Epatante heads the market and her seven pounds mares' allowance looks significant. She has won four of her five hurdle races to date, her only defeat coming in the mares' novices' hurdle here last year. That course form leaves a question mark but she comes here a much fresher horse after winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day (Silver Streak second, Ballyandy third, Fusil Raffles pulled up). The favourite has obliged on four occasions in the past decade; the last three mares to win this race: Dawn Run (1984); Flakey Dove (1994); Annie Power (2016).

Pentland Hills won last year's Triumph Hurdle well but he has been turned over twice this term and makes little appeal at the price.

Cilaos Emery has been supplemented so connections clearly feel their charge will be competitive.

Given the open-looking nature of the race, a number of runners have been put up at each-way prices including Supasundae, Coeur Sublime, Ballyandy and Silver Streak (for me, not always fluent enough at his obstacles).

On official handicap ratings the best horses in the race are:

163 Sharjah (prefers better ground)
160 Supasundae
159 Epatante
159 Cilaos Emery
159 Cornerstone Lad

Cornerstone Lad pulled off a shock when beating Buveur D'Air in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle; it later came to light that Buveur D'Air had suffered a freak injury when jumping the penultimate flight.

Micky Hammond's charge was then beaten threequarters of length into third in Haydock's Champion Hurdle Trial, trying to concede six pounds to Ballyandy and three pounds to Pentland Hills. That form reads well.

He prefers soft / heavy ground and, to date, has finished in the first three on his fourteen starts over hurdles. His handler has indicated he doesn't have to race from the front - and perhaps won't get there with Not So Sleepy in the field! Hughie Morrison's charge is not for the faint-hearted but, if he gets to the front, he could easily outrun his odds; 40/1 has long since disappeared; at the time of writing he is a 25/1 chance. 

Cornerstone Lad (33/1) is the each-way selection with most layers paying one fifth the odds four places.

Off a mark of 159 Vinndication heads the market and the weights for the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50).

Last year the Trevor Hemmings owned Lake View Lad carried top weight off a mark of 155 and finished third, two lengths behind the second, another Hemmings owned horse, Vintage Clouds. Vintage Clouds is rated seven pounds higher this time (151); connections are probably using this as a stepping stone to the Grand National.

Several commentators have put up Kildisart on the back of his recent fifth behind Mister Malarky in the Betway Handicap Chase at Kempton. He has been declared with first-time cheekpieces but I just wonder whether he might prefer better ground.

Irish trained runners don't have the best of records in this in recent years (last winner Dun Doire in 2006). Discorama's previous two runs have been disappointing but he has had a wind operation since and is near the head of the market.

I had Now McGinty pencilled in for this but he's nowhere to be seen.

At the weights the one to catch my eye is previous course and distance winner The Conditional. He has made marked improvement since moving over the water to David Bridgwater's yard in Gloucestershire and found only De Rasher Counter too good in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November (Mister Malarky ten lengths adrift in sixth). He didn't appear to stay thee miles five at Warwick the last day; the handicapper has relented and dropped him three pounds for that effort.

At a bigger price Activial looks to have been trained with this as his target. He finished sixth last year  - beaten just over seven lengths - and he lost a right hind shoe that day. He tries this year six pounds better off and his last run behind Native River at Newbury should have put him spot on. However, at ten years of age, the trends suggest he may struggle to come home in front  - the only ten-year-old to win in the past decade was Chief Dan George in 2010.

William Hill offer 9/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places - The Conditional is the each-way selection.

The Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle sees a clash between Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle while Irish runners filled the first three places in last year's running of the 4.50 (cf. previous post). It's not a bet for me but Gordon Elliott has indicated Galvin, sixth behind City Island in last year's Ballymore, is expected go well.               

Friday, March 06, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - early thoughts and handicap hints

It's been a wet winter. With tomorrow's Imperial Cup card at Sandown abandoned, I'm keeping my power dry for next week's jamboree.

In the run-up to last year's Festival I wrote:

"Festival handicaps are an absolute minefield, come with a health / wealth warning and really need to be avoided at all costs."

As a general rule of thumb that advice still holds good but, hell, yet again, I hear those Siren voices starting to call...

It all stems back to a salient piece of analysis Simon Holt produced after last year's event [RP Weekender 20-24.03.19] in which he pointed out that Irish runners 'again performed exceptionally well in handicaps'.

Of the ten handicap races staged over the four days, Great Britain won five, Ireland five.

However Irish trained horses filled the first three places in the following races:

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (this year named the Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase):

 1. A Plus Tard 5/1f
 2. Tower Bridge 6/1
 3. Ben Dundee 33/1

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle:

 1. Band Of Outlaws 7/2f
 2. Coko Beach 14/1
 3. Ciel De Neige 17/2

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle:

 1. Early Doors 5/1
 2. Dallas Des Pictons 7/2f
 3. Defi Bleu 14/1

The winners of the Close Brothers and the Boodles were both running in handicaps for the first time.

In addition, in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle, five of the first seven home were trained in Ireland:

 1. Sire Du Berlais 4/1f
 [2. Tobefair 40/1] 
 3. Not Many Left 16/1
 4. Cuneo 12/1
 5. A Toi Phil 20/1
 [6. Theclockisticking 25/1]
 7. Thermistocles 9/1

Holt notes that of the 226 runners in ten handicaps, 13 out of 68 Irish runners finished in the first three (19%) compared to 17 out of 158 British runners (10.8%).

Three weeks later Holt doubled up with a piece entitled 'Handicaps at Aintree a rout for the Irish' [RP Weekender 10-14.04.19] with Irish runners winning five of the seven handicaps from just 32 entries, with an additional four runners finishing placed; Ireland returned a 28% placings to runners figure while the British figure was just 9.4%.

To quote Holt directly:

"...there is no parity between British and Irish handicapping systems, and even though British handicappers run their own Irish ratings and generally have Irish horses a bit higher than back home, the returns at Cheltenham and Aintree suggest there is still a significant imbalance."

BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood has recently stated:

"Generally speaking I have the biggest problem with the Irish novice chasers as not everyone knows they go back to a rating of zero when starting over fences, whatever they've done over hurdles.

"That has made the Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase the hardest for me this year, and a few...are higher than their Irish ratings."

Esoteric stuff and I'm no expert, not by a long chalk. Perhaps the professional handicappers have sought to address the imbalance referenced above - or maybe they haven't...

Bang on cue, in this week's Weekender [RP Weekender 04-08.03.20], Tom Segal pens a piece entitled 'Handicap grumbles tell a story', focussing on, amongst others, the rather aptly named The Storyteller:

"The extra few pounds didn't stop Presenting Percy or Sire Du Berlais and I doubt very much a horse like The Storyteller will be stopped by a couple fo pounds either. The Pertemps Final is hard to win but the fact many are suggesting he has been handicapped out of it tells me all those connected with him seriously fancy he will go close."     

At this stage, with several runners holding multiple entries, it's not that easy to predict which race named horses will run in, never mind if they're in with a serious chance of landing the spoils.

A few brief notes that might help along the way...

Aramax, currently favourite for the Boodles (4.50 Wednesday), won the same Naas race as Band Of Outlaws last year. The price disappeared a long time ago but in a recent interview Gordon Elliott expressed some reservation about this one on very soft ground and seemed sweeter on the chance of Tronador and possibly Saint D'oroux.

Gavin Cromwell says Alfa Mix is 'one of the few Irish handicappers who can run off his Irish mark'; he holds entries in the Coral Cup (2.50 Wednesday) and the Martin Pipe (5.30 Friday).

Thatsy holds entries in the Coral Cup (2.50 Wednesday), the County Hurdle (2.10 Friday) and the Martin Pipe (5.30 Friday) and is considered 'well handicapped' by Gordon Elliott.

Relegate holds an entry in the Pertemps Final (2.10 Thursday) and is a big loser in Paddy Power's book.

Gordon Elliott suggested Galvin would go well in the Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase (Tuesday 4.50).

Just for the record, I've noted that Gordon Elliott's win-strike rate over the past fortnight is just 8% (4-50) which is perhaps a slight concern.

After all that, I'm not really sure I'm any further forward...

As always, I'll aim to post a blog for each day's racing at the Festival. Current thinking, subject to change, briefly outlined below...

Cornerstone Lad overpriced at 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday; an each-way play with conditions to suit.

Soft ground against Altior in the Champion Chase on Wednesday.

Third Wind not guaranteed to stay but of interest in the Pertemps Final on the back of his one length second behind Phoenix Way conceding that winner six pounds (Plumpton, January 2019).

Penhill an each-way play in the Stayers' Hurdle, Willie Mullins talking up his chance in the Weekender.

I was impressed with Sir Psycho's slick hurdling at Haydock the last day.

Mack The Man took a very nasty fall in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but trainer Evan Williams sounds keen. More work to be done; he's 25/1 with some layers for the County Hurdle but just 12/1 with Coral.

Not long left to wait now...

Friday, February 28, 2020

Doncaster's Grimthorpe Chase 2020

Eleven have been declared for the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase (3.35) at Doncaster tomorrow but both Definitly Red and Saint Xavier have their preferred engagement in the Premier Listed Chase (3.22) at Kelso.

At the start of this afternoon the going at Doncaster was described as soft, good to soft in places; that had changed to heavy by the end of the third race.

Last night, before final declaration stage, I'd thought Now McGinty was certainly worth a second look on the back of his head second behind Santini on seasonal debut at Sandown in November but connections have decided to let this opportunity pass. Stuart Edmunds' charge holds entries in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival (25/1) and the Grand National.

As an aside, I was interested in stablemate Rowland Ward in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on Cheltenham's Wednesday card but, checking entries this evening, I see he is now a non-runner.

Back to the business in hand where two seven-year-olds, Worthy Farm and Boldmere, head up the market. The last seven-year-old to come home in front was, I think, Knight Templar (Barry Fenton up) in 2000 - when this was a very different race.

Worthy Farm has done a lot of his racing right-handed and, to date, hasn't won going the other way round. The blinkers certainly seem to have helped the cause but he's now rated 12 pounds higher than when he won a neck at Wincanton on Boxing Day.

Four weeks ago Boldmere looked to have the Towton at Wetherby at his mercy when coming to grief at the last. Caroline Bailey's charge is now rated 24 pounds higher than when winning the Holly Handicap Chase at Leicester (over two and a half miles) on December 11th.

Both market leaders have just four chase starts to their name.

At nine years of age Yalltari may be two years older but with just five chase starts Venetia Williams' charge looks as though he hasn't been the easiest to train. The stable is in fine form though (23% win strike-rate over the past fortnight) and his chance is respected.

Captain Chaos isn't the most consistent of individuals but this season he has finished second behind Takingrisks in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle and then made practically all only to be mugged after the last by Kimberlite Candy in the Classic Chase at Warwick. That looked a hard enough race but, if in the mood and allowed his own way up front, he could take some pegging back.

Chidswell won this last year off a mark of 127 and tries to repeat the trick racing off 132. I lost count of the number of jumping errors Nicky Richards' charge made in the Sky Bet Chase here last time out yet he stayed on through beaten horses to claim third. Better jumping should see him more competitive but yard form looks a worry with no win for 40 days.

Dr Richard Newland hasn't recorded a win for 38 days; he saddles Aaron Lad who has just three chase starts to his name and this looks a stiff task.

Both Fortified Bay and Ascot De Bruyere were entered in last week's Eider Chase which fell to the weather; I put up the latter for the Eider as James Ewart's gelding happens to like it around Newcastle. Just over four weeks ago Fortified Bay beat Ascot De Bruyere some 21 lengths at Newcastle and, at the weights, would be expected to confirm that form. Jennie Candish's charge is another relatively inexperienced over the larger obstacles.

Respected commentator Simon Holt puts up Cesar Et Rosalie each-way.

I'm assuming Definitly Red and Saint Xavier will travel north to Kelso.

This year's renewal looks atypical in that five of the remaining nine runners have five or less chase starts under their belts and, on balance, I prefer to side with experience.

Captain Chaos' profile is just a little too inconsistent and I'd struggle to support Chidswell after those jumping errors last time so I'm going to chance Ascot De Bruyere with his featherweight on the heavy ground; Danny McMenamin can claim three.

On Racing Post ratings - and on his best form - he should certainly be competitive and, as I indicated last week, on his only try beyond three miles, he showed he could stay this sort of trip. I just hope he takes to Doncaster as well as he has done to Newcastle in the past.

Most layers go 33/1 this evening but Sky Bet offer 25/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.

Ascot De Bruyere is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Eider Chase 2020

Nike Vaporfly running shoes have thrown up some difficult questions for the world athletics ruling body in recent weeks. In some cases, athletes have reported a 4% improvement on the time taken to run a marathon; they have been described as 'magic' shoes and 'likened to doping'.

Yesterday, a sufficiently well-refreshed reader, swaying gently in the wind, beckoned me over and proceeded to suggest that, using similar patented technology, Nike should consider branching out into the manufacture of thoroughbred racing plates. Perhaps brand them 'Horsefly' (not 'Horseplay' - a singular point on which we could both agree). He continued along the lines that these hi-tech racing plates should then be fitted to all the blog's selections in the future - that way down-at-heel readers might at least retain a modicum of hope of receiving some small return on the wagers suggested.

Quite cutting remarks, I think you'd agree.

'A sort of shoe-in, do you mean?' I enquired. 'Have a sole!'

Too late. Showing plenty of toe, he'd already hoofed it - straight into The Trotting Mare across the road.

Tomorrow's meeting at Newcastle is subject to an eight o'clock inspection; the going is currently described as heavy, soft in places. Twelve have been declared for the Eider Chase (2.45) which this year will be run over the slightly longer distance of four miles one furlong and 56 yards.

In 2018 Baywing won carrying 11-00 off a mark of 140 while last year Crosspark won off a mark of 135 carrying 10-13. Tomorrow Prime Venture heads the handicap off a mark of 136 which suggests this year's renewal may not be among the best but that's unlikely to make finding the winner any easier.

A number in the field wouldn't be guaranteed to see out this trip in this ground but Prime Venture isn't one of them and trainer's daughter Isabel Williams can claim seven. His fourth in the Welsh National behind Potters Corner reads well and, although he has yet to score over the larger obstacles, his handler hopes 'his time won't be long in coming'.

Favourite Petite Power comes into this in very good form. Fergal O'Brien's charge finished third behind Kimberlite Candy in Warwick's Classic Chase and before that was pipped a neck by Belle Empress - Belle Empress finished a creditable third in the Devon National at Exeter earlier today. Mr Liam Harrison claims seven pounds.

Owned by The Black Horse Hotel Bridgnorth, Calipso Collonges was a well-beaten second behind Lord Du Mesnil in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock last time. That still rates a good effort and his handler has said 'I can see him winning a nice handicap somewhere this season'. This is his first try at a trip beyond three miles two furlongs.

On the other hand Hugo 'N' Taz won the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen over three miles three and half furlongs on his first run in this country. Quoting David Pipe in this week's Weekender:

"I would be disappointed if he didn't build on that next time. He is in the Eider on Saturday and and could be a possible for the National Hunt Chase next month."

Three and a half weeks ago Fortified Bay beat Hill Sixteen two lengths here with Glittering Love third and Ascot De Bruyere fourth. Fortified Bay has been raised seven for that effort and on a strict interpretation of the form still has the beating of the third and fourth. That was over a trip just shy of three miles and clearly the market expects more from the Paul and Clare Rooney owned Glittering Love who sports first-time cheekpieces. Quoting handler Nicky Richards from the Weekender 04-08.12.19:

"He's a grand horse who has been very successful so far. He won four of his five point-to-points and began his chasing career on a very good mark last season... I think he could have another good winter given the rub of the green. He wants proper soft ground and stays well." 

Alminar won last time out and Financial Outcome has undergone wind surgery since finishing third behind Fortescue at Uttoxeter. Both are aged seven - only one seven-year-old has come home in front since Domaine De Pron won in 1998 - Portrait King in 2012.

Shanroe Santos is inconsistent but would have his chance on a going day while Very First Time didn't appear to stay when fourth behind Hugo 'N' Taz in the Lincolnshre National.

A most open affair; I'm considering two at a price. On his first run after wind surgery Donna's Delight won well from the front over three miles three at Ayr last time out. On a tenuous line through Lord Du Mesnil, Calipso Collonges has the beating of Sandy Thomson's charge.

At a much bigger price Ascot De Bruyere has a very good record at this track and on his only try beyond three miles finished a creditable sixth - beaten under 12 lengths - behind Harry The Viking in the 2018 Scottish Borders National at Kelso.

I still haven't forgiven myself for failing to look more closely at Smooth Stepper at Haydock last weekend (put off by those veterans' chase runs) so this week I'm going to take an each-way chance on Ascot de Bruyere and hope that, although a lot of his racing has been over two and half to three miles, he can see out the marathon trip in the manner he did at Kelso; Danny McMenamin does his bit for the cause by claiming three.

At the time of writing William Hill offer 28/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Ascot De Bruyere is the each-way suggestion.

Now, if only he could race in those 'magic' plates...

Friday, February 14, 2020

Haydock's Grand National Trial

There hasn't been an awful lot of racing this week and my bank balance looks all the better for it.

Tomorrow's cards hang in the balance with Storm Dennis threatening to bring heavy rain and strong winds; early morning inspections are scheduled at Ascot, Haydock, Wincanton and Lingfield.

The going at Haydock is currently heavy, soft in places on the hurdle course.

Eleven have been declared for the Unibet Grand National Trial Handicap chase at 3.15; Ballyoptic's preferred engagement is in the 2.25 at Ascot.

Course and distance winner Yala Enki finished third in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow over Christmas with The Two Amigos fifth, Elegant Escape sixth and Pobbles Bay eighth; this evening Paul Nicholls' charge heads the market but has been raised 15 pounds for winning at Taunton last month.

The Two Amigos raced enthusiastically from the front in the Welsh National and only faded coming to the last; the slightly shorter trip here may help.

There's a school of thought that Elegant Escape hit one up the home straight and that scuppered his chance. He faces a stiff task off top weight and his jumping is often littered with niggling errors; he underwent wind surgery last month.

Quoting Evan Williams in Straight from the Stable - Weekender 12-16.02.20:

"[Pobbles Bay] is a nice stayer but I think it is fair to say the handicapper has him where he wants at the moment. I thought he ran a lovely race in the Welsh National last time out when eighth, but in truth he wasn't good enough. We will look at the Haydock Grand National Trial next as the track and trip will suit him."

Both Pobbles Bay and Smooth Stepper race from out of the handicap.

Vintage Clouds won the Peter Marsh here four weeks ago (Geronimo third). He jumped with some zest that day, the best I've seen from Sue Smith's charge for some considerable time, but he has gone up 11 pounds while Geronimo is now one pound lower and weighted to reverse the form. All that said, Ryan Mania was hard at work some way from home on Geronimo...

Lord Du Mesnil won over course and distance last time out and the time before beat Vintage Clouds into third in the Tommy Whittle. On his seasonal debut at Stratford in October he started off a mark of 115; tomorrow he starts off 147 with Paul O'Brien able to claim three. No seven-year-old has won this in the past ten years.

One For Arthur won the National off this mark (148) three years ago and clearly retains ability; he underwent a wind operation in December and now sports cheekpieces for the first time. It looks as though connections are using this as a stepping stone to the Aintree showpiece in April so it's difficult to gauge how fit the horse is; last time out he finished just under seventeen lengths behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher Chase.

I'm not convinced Steely Addition will stay this trip in these conditions.

A rushed post. One For Arthur(10/1) is of interest each-way but, given the weather warnings, I'll wait until tomorrow before making any decision.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle 2020

On Thursday 7th October 2004 Reg Hollinshead, a trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, sent out filly Norma Hill to win the Ludlow Racing Partnership Juvenile Maiden Hurdle at odds of 25/1. I was at the Shropshire track that bucolic afternoon and clearly remember the filly set off in front; she never saw another runner.

On Wednesday 5th February 2020 Gay Kelleway, another trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, sent Bolt N Brown to Ludlow to make all and win the Two C's Antiques Fillies' Juvenile Hurdle at odds of 25/1 (backed in from 40s); the appropriately named Eddie Edge claimed seven along with his first winner in public.

Insufficiently prescient, I only made the link between the events outlined above at around 7.20pm on Wednesday evening. Gentle sigh. Another 40/1 winner passes me by...

Hughie Morrison, yet another trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, will be hoping Not So Sleepy can make all to win tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and land connections a bit more money than Reg or Gay managed up at Ludlow - and pocket a cool £100,000 bonus in the process.

Just to be clear, the layers won't be offering any fancy 40/1 prices; in addition, I suspect it's something of an understatement to say Not So Sleepy can be a bit of a handful. Jonathan Burke will be doing the steering - and not a lot else other than holding on for dear life - as Sleepy struts his stuff; the last day the pair nearly ended up going through the wing of a hurdle.

Sleepy comes into this following two runaway victories at Ascot. The first time he was afforded a soft lead and the handicapper raised him five to 127. The gelding repeated the trick four weeks later in a race once known as the Ladbroke Hurdle, beating Monsiuer Lecoq (an astonishing) nine lengths.

In the immediate aftermath of that race some commentators were a little sniffy about Sleepy's hurdling but others advised Mr Morrison to give the beast an entry in next months's Champion Hurdle and that's exactly what Mr Morrison did.  At the time of writing Not So Sleepy is a best-priced 25/1 for the feature race on the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

Subsequently, the handicapper took a much closer look at the horse's rating after that second Ascot victory and raised him to a mark of 144 - a chunky 17 pound hike; the handler thinks this 'isn't huge'...

The horse I took out of the Ladbroke was Sir Valentine who suffered significant interference on the first bend and as a result quickly lost his position. Racing from the rear, he did well to make up ground from two out to finish a respectable third, beaten some 13 lengths (Whoshotthesheriff fifth, Tamaroc Du Matahan tailed off in tenth with Zanza falling at the fourth and bringing down Quoi De Neuf in the process).

Nigel Twiston-Davies has a decent recent record in this with Splash Of Ginge (2014), Ballyandy (2017) and Al Dancer (last year) all coming home in front but jockey bookings would appear to suggest that Sir Valentine's stablemate in the same ownership - Stolen Silver - is better fancied. He appeared to have a hard enough race on heavy ground in the Rossington Main at Haydock three weeks ago and now faces Thebannerkingrebel, third that day, nine pounds worse off.

It feels like a long time since we've seen genuine good ground and that will definitely suit the Emma Lavelle trained Highly Prized but he has been off the track a while and connections have nominated the Grand National meeting at Aintree in the spring as the ultimate target [Weekender Stable Tour 27.11.19 - 01.12.19].

Greatwood Hurdle form is always worth a second look. Harambe beat Gumball a neck with Quoi De Neuf fourth (beaten under two lengths) and Zanza sixth; Harambe has been raised seven pounds for that run, Quoi De Neuf four.   

Ecco has been on my radar and he has the right profile. The run at Cheltenham in November was a disappointment but he was better the next time behind Fred; his price has drifted steadily through the day. 

This is a fiercely competitive renewal; with 24 going to post, it's possible to make a case for several in the field. No horse older than six has won since Geos in 2004; over the past ten years Violet Dancer (2015) was the lowest rated winner (132) and Zarkander (2012) the highest (151).

Sky Bet, William Hill, Paddy Power and Betfair all offer one fifth the odds six places.

The market indicates Mack The Man is the much better fancied of Evan Williams' two runners but Quoi De Neuf has the right profile and was unlucky to be brought down in the Ladbroke the last day.

With the booking of Brian Hughes catching the eye, Quoi De Neuf is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with Sky Bet.

To finish, I received a mail earlier today from Epsom racecourse asking whether a trip to the Derby was on my bucket list. Give me a break - I haven't decided which Cheltenham preview night I'm going to yet...

Friday, January 31, 2020

Edinburgh National 2020

On the day Britain officially leaves the EU I thought I'd inform you that hard work stopped in 1940. I happen to know this because in 1973 a bloke on a bowling green told me so. One of those things I've never forgotten; I was 16 at the time.

Whatever, this season has certainly seemed like hard work and it would appear there's more chance of Lord Lucan being found alive than the current state of affairs stopping anytime soon.

The Dublin Racing Festival has established itself as one of the most important meetings between Christmas and the Cheltenham Festival in the National Hunt calendar but to date attendances haven't done justice to the quality of racing on offer; that's unlikely to change tomorrow with Ireland set to face Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in the opening match of the Six Nations championship. Leopardstown's cards on Saturday and Sunday look set to prove most informative with Cheltenham only five and a half weeks away.

The best value on offer today can be found in the Racing Post's 'Go North' Weekend initiative and, just to show I'm not averse to taking a bit of my own advice, I'm off up to Musselburgh for a wager in the bet365 Edinburgh National Handicap Chase at 3.15; ten have been declared with the going currently described as good to soft, soft in places.

Favourite Little Bruce beat Sumkindofking three lengths in the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick 23 days ago with Brian Boranha two lengths adrift when coming to grief at the final flight.

The winner has been raised six pounds for that effort while both Sumkindofking and Brian Boranha remain on their respective marks; at the revised ratings Sumkindofking looks to have the beating of the favourite but the form of Tom George's yard is a cause for concern.

Chic Name enters calculations on the back of his defeat of Scottish National winner Joe Farrell at Newbury last March and his subsequent eighth behind Takingrisks in the most recent renewal of that very race in April; he comes to this in fine fettle after two decent efforts in cross-country chases at Cheltenham.

Wonderful Charm has been competing in hunter chases since June 2017 and is the only course winner in the field. Now aged twelve he may be vulnerable and I prefer to look elsewhere.

Bob Mahler tries this marathon trip for the first time but he beat Little Bruce seven lengths conceding three pounds in a novices' handicap chase at Cheltenham last spring off a mark of 132; in the past trainer Warren Greatrex has said soft ground is important for this one - he should have no worries on that score. 

Age is catching up with Carole's Destrier (12) and Harry The Viking (15), while Blow By Blow looks bang out of form so Arthur's Gift is the one I'm interested in after his recent Welsh National run - and also because I once knew a man called Arthur who kindly gave me a present.

The price has contracted noticeably in the time it has taken me to write this post.

Seventh behind Potters Corner on heavy ground in the Welsh National, Arthur's Gift has been dropped two pounds and Jordan Nailor can claim another five in this less competitive event. The horse held a five-day entry in the race won by Worthy Farm at Wincanton yesterday but clearly connections have decided this is the option they want to take up.

A few layers offer 9/1 at the time of writing which doesn't seem particularly generous (but more generous than the 13/2 offered by Paddy Power); nonetheless Arthur's Gift is the each-way suggestion.

By the way, that bloke on the bowling green - took him corner to corner and beat him 21-5. Told me afterwards he found it hard work.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Two longshots on the Cheltenham Trials Day card 2020

Cor blimey, guv'nor!

Enrietta Knight might ave ad a few quid in er purse but Enry Iggins ran a orror in the Pertemps Network  Andicap Urdle at Untingdon (2.00) earlier today. Eaded after the first, e ad a couple of misaps at the urdles and was soon ard at work; e appened to beat just the one ome, finishing 36 and a alf lengths behind ard eld otpot Sermando. Orrendous.

Ere's a couple of tips that are unlikely to get you singing and dancing in the streets or elp your umour - and I must try and drop stopping my aitches.

Trials day at Cheltenam, sorry Cheltenham, tomorrow; along with everyone else I'll be looking for those Festival clues. Just six and a half weeks to go...

For betting purposes though I'm interested in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (1.15) and the concluding Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.10).

Twelve go to post for the 1.15 with Imperial Aura currently priced up favourite.

On his seasonal debut Imperial Aura finished third behind Flash The Steel and Champagne Court in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow (Ballyandy eighth, subsequent Ascot winner Greaneteen thirteenth). Kim Bailey describes his charge as having ' the makings of an interesting novice chaser'.

Champagne Court has to concede seven pounds to his rival and wears a tongue-tie for the first time.

At Kempton on Boxing Day Simply The Betts finished second and On The Slopes third (behind Commanche Red); that form reads well and the pair look closely matched again - On The Slopes lost second spot on the run-in.

Racing Post top-rated Sully D'Oc AA has caught my attention at a price.

I'm just a little bit wary about putting up horses owned by J P McManus - if fancied, the price disappears pretty quickly; the alternative would leave you to believe the horse isn't necessarily fancied at all. All that said, here's Anthony Honeyball's comments in the Straight from the Stable feature in the Weekender [18-22.12.19]:

"...he's a lovely big specimen of a horse. He loves his work at home and is always doing his best to please.

"...his second to the well-handicapped Fanion D'Estruval [subsequently fifth in the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase at Kempton] at Newbury last month was much more like it. I was very happy he didn't get put up for that run and he now heads to Ascot or Exeter next week. He's in grand order and I feel it would be good to get a third run into him while we can, which would mean he then qualifies for any handicap we choose."

Sully finished fifth behind Greaneteen at Ascot and tomorrow's race is the handicap connections have chosen. The gelding holds an each-way chance on that Newbury form and I'm prepared to forgive the latest run at Ascot.

At the time of writing Paddy Power offer 20/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places; Sully D'Oc AA is the each-way suggestion.

John Constable (1776-1837) is famous for his landscapes of the Suffolk countryside; his namesake runs in the finale at 4.10.

As I pointed out just three weeks ago before his latest run at Sandown, it seems barely believable that Evan Williams' charge finished four and a half lengths adrift of My Tent Or Yours in the International Hurdle off a mark of 156 just over two years ago.

I've been waiting for some small, barely perceptible, sign of improvement and thought I'd spotted something on his penultimate run here in December where he finished just under ten lengths behind Repetitio.

The handicapper dropped him three pounds to a mark of 127 for that effort and has since dropped him a further four pounds (123) after he failed to get involved in that Sandown race dominated by Totterdown and eventually won by Mill Green.

I'm prepared to forgive that one and with trainer's daughter Isabel able to claim a further seven pounds, he is effectively running off a mark of 116.

He wouldn't be the most consistent  but connections have been particularly patient and the yard is in good form at present (5 wins from 23 runs in past fortnight). Betway offer 16/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.

John Constable is the second, more tentative, each-way suggestion.

Heach-way double, hanyone?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Heavy going at Haydock

Heavy rain, heavy going and small fields. Any good news? Well, this year's Christmas cake (soft, heavy in places) has finally been finished off.

Flying Angel and Red Indian both hold entries in the bet365 Handicap Chase (Ascot 3.00) but the preferred engagement for both is the featured Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (Haydock 2.40) for which ten have been declared.

Race trends indicate more often than not this tends to go to an experienced sort; six in the field have less ten chase starts to their name - Acting Lass, Geronimo, Midnight Tune, Champers On Ice, Claud And Goldie and Red Indian - while Flying Angel has done most of his racing around the two mile five furlong mark.

With course form always at a premium here, the stats suggest the two to concentrate on are Definitly Red and Vintage Clouds.

Definitly Red is a class act on his day. Well beaten in the Charlie Hall on his seasonal debut, he made up a lot of ground at the business end of the race on his next run, finishing fourth behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher at Aintree. Carrying top weight in heavy ground is never easy but his chance is respected.

Vintage Clouds was pulled up in the Becher and then finished 20 lengths third behind Lord Du Mesnil in the Tommy Whittle; the handicapper has dropped him two pounds for that effort.

Owned by Trevor Hemmings, the horse boasts a good record here but he tends to finish in the places more often than winning. To my mind, in general terms, he hasn't jumped as well after he came a cropper at the first in the 2019 Grand National.

Trainer Sue Smith bids for her fifth win in the race -The Last Fling, 2000; Artic Jack, 2004; Cloudy Too, 2016; and Wakanda, 2019 - and it's fair to say Vintage Clouds looks a percentage each-way call but at 8/1 it's not really a wager that lights the fires so instead I'm going to take a punt on the back of a comment Nick Alexander has made in the Weekender.

Clan Legend won at Kelso last time out and goes in the Cheltenham Preview Here In March Handicap Chase at 3.45; the trainer says:

"He didn't get his ground last winter but I was very pleased with his win the other day. 

"He's gone up 4lb which was very fair, and I'd like to think he should improve for that run. I hope he can run a very big race wherever he goes next. He loves very soft ground..."

He has to carry top weight but is one of only two in the field with winning form at the track (Ubaltique the other).

A few in the field like to race prominently while others don't have an awful lot of chase experience - favourite Zizaneur has failed to complete on his last three starts, unseating Mr David Maxwell three out on his chase debut at Taunton 11 days ago.

I'm guessing Mr Alexander is leaving off the cheekpieces applied for the first time last time as Lucy will give Clan Legend a hold-up ride.

10/1 with several layers at the time of writing Clan Legend (3.45 Haydock) is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Warwick's Classic Chase 2020

If Unibet ambassador Nicky Henderson thinks he's had a week of it with Altior, he should spare a thought for Harry and Meghan. After a right royal bust-up, they've been told fast track discussions about their future are likely to involve, amongst others, Home Secretary Priti Patel - enough to make anyone want to give up on a Dry January.

I suspect Henderson and Her Majesty could both do with a bit of a restorative and they'll be keen on Keen On providing the necessary cheer in the Leamington Novices' Hurdle (Warwick 2.25).

And what's this? Chancellor Sajid Javid has booked Wednesday 11th March - Champion Chase day - for his first budget speech. Whatever next? Announcing the winner of the Labour Party leadership contest on the same as the Grand National?

The Sussexes may have taken the brave decision to move towards financial independence but this season's blog tips are taking me in completely the opposite direction.

Fair play to Hughie Morrison whose jumpers are doing their best to stem the tide - Maridadi goes in the 3.55 at Wetherby tomorrow - but if this were a boxing match, the ref. would have stopped proceedings some time ago.

The feature on tomorrow's Warwick card is the Classic Chase (3.00) for which thirteen remain at the tine of writing (NRs Rocky's Treasure and previous winner Milansbar); the going is currently described as soft.

Trained by Lucinda Russell, One For Arthur won the 2017 renewal before going on to win the Grand National at Aintree; Big River (from the same stable) held a five-day entry but connections have opted to pass on the long journey south and instead go to Kelso on Sunday.

It's no surprise to see The Conditional head the market. On just his second run for David Bridgwater the gelding beat West Approach at Cheltenham (Crosspark and Captain Chaos pulled up) before finishing a fine second in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury behind De Rasher Counter. The handicapper has raised him five pounds for that effort; this will be his first try beyond three and a quarter miles.

I've never previously held any particular reservation about opposing Kimberlite Candy; however his latest effort, a fine second in first-time cheekpieces in the Becher Chase behind Walk In The Mill, certainly caught the eye. The cheekpieces remain in place - J P McManus will expect a bold bid.

Luca Morgan takes seven pounds off top weight Le Breuil who finished seventh in the Becher, some 17 lengths behind Kimbertlite Candy. Ben Pauling's yard wasn't firing on all cylinders at the time and I know his charge won the 2018 National Hunt Chase on soft ground over four miles at Cheltenham but I just feel Le Breuil is a better horse on better ground.

Both Petite Power and Bobo Mac arrive here in rude health; the latter's best chase form appears to be on a right-handed track.

Darlac's lack of chase experience is off-putting but I note that Impulsive Star won last year's renewal on just his sixth start over the larger obstacles (Crosspark third). Neil Mulholland's charge has been pulled up on every start since so connections swap cheekpieces for blinkers in the hope of sparking a revival.

Captain Chaos' second behind Takingrisks in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in November reads well but other recent efforts look below par; trainer Dan Skelton has described his charge as 'an unlucky horse last year' but overall his profile is inconsistent.

Heads To The Stars has a nice racing weight and Hugh Nugent claims five but the jumping has caused problems in the past while Joueur Bresilien doesn't look guaranteed to stay.

Veteran Mysteree would be no forlorn hope if in the mood - this one was beaten a neck by Crosspark in the Eider last February and won at Kelso in October.

Writing in the Weekender Paul Kealy picks Kimberlite Candy indicating he had trouble finding one at a price. I know exactly what he means but I'm going to chance last year's third Crosspark who did me a big favour in the Eider and ran well in the Scottish National.

Caroline Bailey's charge has finished well beaten on both starts this term.

He was pulled up behind The Conditional at Cheltenham and then finished 74 lengths behind Lord Du Mesnil at Haydock just before Christmas. Perhaps the spectacles need some heavy-duty adjustment but he looked handy enough four out the last day before tiring; a mistake three from home ended any hope and he was eased when his chance had gone. The handicapper has dropped him two pounds for that effort and Jamie Moore is back in the plate.

Both Sky Bet and  Paddy Power offer 12/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Crosspark is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Sandown segue

What were the chances of this then?

First post of the new decade and I'm talking about, er, Cheltenham.

In the very first race on New Year's Day the stewards controversially disqualified first past the post Protektorat and declared the second, Imperial Alcazar, the winner; one imagines Sir Alex Ferguson, part owner of Protektorat, would not have been amused. Dan and Harry Skelton certainly weren't - the trainer told the Racing Post the decision had ruined his trip to Disneyland and an appeal can be expected. 

A little over an hour later Champ took a crashing fall two from home in the Dipper; connections have been forced back to the drawing board. The Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot next month is a possibility but Nicky Henderson's charge remains the clear 7/2 favourite in ante-post markets for the RSA come March.

That's twice Champ has raced at Cheltenham and twice he has come back beaten - he finished second to City Island in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle last March.

I'd be the first to admit the eyesight isn't what it used to be but when Nicky Henderson told reporters that up to that fateful encounter with the penultimate flight it was the best he'd seen the horse jump, well, I nearly fell in a heap of my own. To my mind some jumps were good but others less so and Richard Hoiles said as much in commentary. Watch this space as they say.

The Tolworth Hurdle (2.25) is the highlight on the card at Sandown tomorrow while the Veterans' Handicap Chase (3.00) is being run in memory of Houblon Des Obeaux who suffered a heart attack here in the London National last month.

I've spent my preparation time looking at the Read Nico De Boinville's Unibet Blog Handicap Hurdle at 3.35; the going on the hurdle track is described as soft, heavy in places.

Nico De Boinville is booked to ride market leader Gunnery so, taking the advice proffered by the race title, I've taken a quick peek at Nico's blog. Rated 90 on the Flat, Gunnery may well appear well handicapped allocated a hurdle rating of 121; he won a Class 4 handicap hurdle at Doncaster six days ago but, that said, tomorrow's race looks far more competitive.

Often displaying a tendency to pull hard, Gunnery raced from the front at Doncaster; he's likely to face competition for the lead tomorrow with Totterdown another who likes to front run. Sent off an even money shot on his debut for the Fergal O'Brien yard in November, Totterdown ran his rivals ragged over course and distance.

A listed race here last month ties in a couple of tomorrow's runners. Mack The Man beat Protektorat (see above) with Smarty Wild fourth, Ruacana fifth and Distingo sixth. The handicapper has since tinkered with the weights but with less than five lengths covering the trio you might expect the layers' prices to be far closer - this evening Smarty Wild is quoted 13/2, Distingo 16/1 and Ruacana 20/1.

Distingo is of most interest - from Gary Moore's Straight from the Stable tour in the Weekender 16-20.01.19:

"We thought a lot of this horse last season and he hasn't quite delivered yet." 

The gelding's third behind Jolly's Cracked It (November 2018) reads well and if he can build on his most recent effort, 16/1 looks value.

I'm prepared to oppose the four runners who have been off the track for some considerable time - Colin Tizzard's two course and distance winners Eldorado Allen (392 days) and Ainchea (700 days); Mill Green (262 days but supported in the market this evening); and Remiluc (643 days).

It seems barely believable that John Constable won the Market Rasen Summer Hurdle off a mark of 150 in 2017, and the following December, off a mark of 156, finished four and a half lengths adrift of My Tent Or Yours in the International Hurdle.

You don't need me to tell you it has been downhill since.

Without holding my breath, I've been waiting for any small sign of revival from Evan Williams' charge who starts tomorrow's race off 127 - and trainer's daughter Isabel can claim a further seven. His latest effort at Cheltenham last month was the first sign of an improvement in form.

On his seasonal debut Blu Cavalier was soundly beaten in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot but three weeks later he came out and won well at Doncaster. The handicapper has raised him four pounds for that effort but my reading of the form is the pilot that day, Jonjo O'Neill Jr, was unable to claim whereas tomorrow Ben Jones (also known as 'Jones the Jockey' in our house) can claim five so, in effect, he's one pound better off.

Last February Ali Stronge's ten-year-old finished third in the Betfair Hurdle at Ascot behind Al Dancer and Magic Dancer; that form reads well but a ten-year-old hasn't won this in the past ten years.

On balance I prefer Blu Cavalier's profile to that of Distingo. Sky Bet offer 11/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places; Blu Cavalier is the each-way selection.